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May 26, 2020

This week on the podcast we speak with 'The Queen of Pain' Rebecca Rusch about her gravel event, Rebecca's Private Idaho and The Be Good Foundation.

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Rebecca's Private Idaho

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Automated Transcription (please excuse the typos)

Rebecca, thanks for joining the show.

Oh, it's awesome to be here. I'm stoked. Thanks.

As is customary. Even though you've got to have well-documented history. I'd love to just hear how you got into gravel riding specifically.

It's kind of funny cause I got into gravel. I'm kicking and screaming. I was forced into it. I'm a mountain biker. For those who don't know, I'm a mountain biker, a at heart and rock climber. And had a sponsor that really wanted me to go to this race called the dirty Kanza. And that was maybe 10 years ago, nine, 10 years ago. And I didn't want to go mostly because 200 miles on a gravel road to me seemed like a death by boredom. And it was the first race that I used headphones and was kind of looking, the distance didn't scare me.

It was more I, I just wasn't intrigued by riding on roads as a mountain biker. And I was really surprised when I went at how unique and interesting and how gravel roads are really, you know, kind of the combination of the cool things about mountain biking and cool things about road and really were sort of a melting pot in a way where you needed technical skills to kind of maneuver the chunky gravel and you needed some road skills to sort of stay alive at the beginning and find a wheel if you could. But really it was, it trended a lot more towards the solo mountain bike. Things that I really gravitated to. And really going to that event was the impetus for me to launch Rebecca's private Idaho. And I'd always wanted to launch an event in my hometown because it's a really special place.

I wanted to support my community to some fundraising rides, but I always thought it was going to be a mountain bike stage race. And it ended up, you know, once I got intrigued by gravel and the second event I did that year was an event called Levi's grand Fonda, which is a road event. And again, a sponsor made me go. And I was pleasantly surprised at the community that they built around that with a festival and a party and all sorts of things for everybody from, from kids to elite athletes. And so the combination of those two events in one year really inspired me to take, you know, some of the best things I love about riding, which is, you know, being alone and you know, out in the wilderness and having a really kind of solo experience, but then also coming together as a group in a community at the end to really celebrate.

And that really is kind of the flavor of, of what Rebecca's private Idaho is about. And so, yeah, I was, I got involved as an athlete because my job required it, but it really did sort of spawned this whole new facet of my riding in my career. That opened a lot of doors for me. There's places in my hometown I've never written. So I started exploring for a course for private Idaho. I was just like, wow, I've never been here. I've never been here in Idaho. Has a lot of dirt roads. So it's a, it's been a really fun multi-year experience for me and I never could have imagined that I, you know, what I launched was a really big event. We're going into year eight now. And I, I just did not expect even anyone would come. Or that, you know, I was on the front end of this sort of gravel explosion. I had no idea. I was just presenting what seemed cool to me and a style of writing that seemed fun for me. And little did I know it was gonna eight years later be really kind of blowing up. I'm in the cycling world.

Yeah. Yeah. One of the things, and one of the reasons I was excited to talk to you today as I share a mountain bike passion and a mountain bike background, and I think sort of anecdotally, it seems like a lot of people get drawn into gravel from the roadside of the market, not necessarily the mountain bike, mountain bikers, you know, we've all written those sections and experienced those high fives. You're like, why would I ever want to go on the road or why would I ever want to ride gravel? Like mountain biking is so fun, but as you noted, there's, there's something different about the gravel bike and it's not to take anything away from our shared continued love of the mountain bike, but the idea that you can explore a little bit further than your normal mountain bike loop and you can forgive yourself. The notion like, Oh, I might just ride on a road for a little while to get somewhere. I definitely found myself getting out the Marine County map trail map and sort of just tracing out places I wanted to explore that I just never would have reached on my mountain bike.

Totally. I did the same thing like I've lived here for almost 20 years and I just started looking at maps and seeing like can I connect these dots? And it was super exciting for me. And I do feel like you touched on something that's really special about gravel is that it is exploratory and it is this feeling of like what's around the next corner and can I go a little further? And you know, I've been that kind of, I've had that sort of spirit and mentality of explorations even since I was a little kid. Like I would camp in my backyard. I wanted to like see what was the next block over. And with all my sports that I've done, I've just kind of wanted to see what was over the next Hill. And cycling really has provided such a great template for that because like you said, you can just go further on a bike than you can walking, you know? And I love paddling and climbing and hiking and running, but I can see more on a bike. And so it's that childlike curiosity in me that you know, is alive and well and the bike is such a good, a great tool for that.

And I think that's one of the really cool things about the gravel event community is you're seeing event organizers over the country basically take what you and I just described, that passion for their local community, that obsessing over maps and trying to figure out the best routes and then saying, I finally nailed it. Come to Vermont, come to Kansas, come to Oklahoma. These are the roads you want to ride. So you don't have to think about it. Just get over here and I'm going to take you on the best tour possible for the next hundred or 200 miles.

It's so cool. And I think that is where you touch on something. You know I talked about how gravel is, is really is kind of a coming together, a meeting place a mixing pot of gravel or of road community and mountain bike community. But the spirit to me and what you just described of life, like

Going to explore, offering checkoff at this cool route, this spirit to me it feels much more like it's not to dis

Yeah.

When, Oh this is really,

Cause it's, it's in there. The road aspect of steering a meter, you know, catching that next person and getting on a wheel and not losing a wheel wheel and you're, you're so focused on staying in the draft that you're not looking at the Sioux all the time and think when roadies could be shaped sort of the dirty, gritty, you know, different nature of gravel level. And I think that's why mountain bikers like it to be true because it does feel it's dirt in, you know, it's, Oh, it's like the dirt. There are mites like something this isn't totally smooth underneath your tire. And you know, as people come in and as gravel

Travel grows and grows, it's real.

That's really important to me. That's roots and gravel community maintain that grittiness of grit, call it that. And that gravel doesn't become just a cookie cutter of what didn't, didn't work on the road. And I know U S USA cycling is looking at that kind of stuff and people will, you know, the community is, is kind of like what's going to happen with gravel. And I think, I think what's really cool as we have these discussions, discussions, and we're in this sort of like, we're probably in the, in the golden age of, of gravel events right now as they're growing, they're popping up people, people are loving them, but there's also the growing pains of the pains of like what is gravel, what's it going to become? Come. And there is a, there is a uniqueness in every single single event and mine's more towards my personality as a mountain biker and I'm going to try to make it as rough and technical and, and off-road as possible. Where another other event might trend more towards a road aspect. Like, like Belgian waffle ride is a good example where there's a lot more pavement and it's not to say it's not a good, a good event, but it has a very different style and personality that you then, then what my event would and, and I, I liked that they're all different. I think that's really important for him to maintain that uniqueness.

Yeah. I think that's great. As as we currently have a schedule or a calendar that allows athletes to kind of go wherever they want. And there's not like this, Oh you have to do these five events in order to win some sort of calendar. Cause I think the danger there is yeah, you want to have events that have multiple different personalities. I love the idea of an event testing everybody's skillset from raw horsepower to super, super technical terrain.

Yeah. Yeah. I mean that's why I launched a stage race in the way that I did the queen stage race, which Chaz, you know, stage one is all an motorized trail 50% single track. And then stage two is a five mile uphill time trial, you know, which suits a totally the road. Please love that one. I've had some of the mountain bikers beg me to get rid of that stage. You know, it's like, no, I'm not getting rid of it. And then the third stage is, you know, the, the, the long course, the baked potato around the a hundred miler that has as kind of a bit of everything. And so, so yeah, I I, you know, try to offer up something for everything and the, you know, the regular private Idaho course. So one day there's, you know, sections where, you know, the big Hill climb at the beginning.

Trail Creek summit is a, you know, more than thousand foot climb and you know, that really separates everybody. And then there's a couple of small sections where if you do have a road and, and pace land mining skills, you can hop in with people and then I throw them for a loop and get people off on a really rough double track that I call LD abuelito. It was a new five mile section this year and not really split everybody up on the way back home. And some people loved it, some people hated it. But yeah, I want to offer places on the course that suit a variety of different riots writers so that you may hate me on what part of the course, but you're going to look at me on another part of the course.

Yeah, I love that. Personally as an athlete, I love, I love when I hate my bike during one section saying like, Oh, I made it to off-roading on this road section. Like I feel like that's the Mark of a good course designer. Yeah. Yeah. We're gonna, we're here today really to talk about your event. Rebecca's private Idaho. Can you just kind of break it down for everybody? What are the dates? Where is it located? You talked a little bit about why you started it, but I'd love to hear it just a little bit more specifically about the event and what people can expect.

Yeah, the is labor day weekend, so this year that falls on September 3rd through six and you know, the main event is on Sunday of labor day and that has everything. Now. We've grown to a 20 mile tater tot route to the, you know, 60 ish mile French fry and a hundred mile baked potato root. And those are all on the Sunday of labor day weekend. I've also expanded to include the queen stage race, which is a three day gravel stage race that takes place over four days. And really what I found is Ketchum, Idaho, sun Valley, Idaho, where I live, my hometown is where the event takes place and it is off the beaten path. It's the reason I call it Rebecca's private Idaho. Because it is quiet and, and intimate here and it's a small town and it's hard to get to.

And that's why I put it on labor day weekend. One is, it's a beautiful time of the year here, but also to allow people that extra holiday to travel. Because once you get here, what I find is people don't come for one day. They come here and they want to stay a few extra days and they want to explore a little bit more. And that's why after about the fifth year of private Idaho, I launched the stage race because people have asked me, Oh, this year we're going to come, we're going to say a few more days. Where can I ride? Where can I ride next? And so I decided to just put that platter out for everybody to select from. And you know, and there's a big parade that weekend, my goal was, was not just to host a bike event, but to really show people this special place to support my community, to support bike charities and eventually my foundation that I launched.

And so, and also I want my friends to stay a little longer. You know, we've all been to those bike races where you drive up in your car, you got your gear, you, you know, unload, get dressed right at the back of your car, go do the race, load up your car and go home. I didn't want that kind of experience. I wanted, you know a bigger sort of by end of the season bike celebration. And that's, that's what it has grown to become. It's, it's really cool. I really look forward to it. But I, and I do try to, the reason we've launched different distances and is to try to welcome everybody in. So the tater tot, for example, it's 20 miles. It's non-competitive and hopefully it's a stepping stone for people who've never tried gravel or you know, parents of kids who want to ride and then they step up to the French fried and they step up to the big potato. And I have a course in my head, 125 mile course that eventually I'll add when I can call the twice big potato. So, and Rebecca on that tater tot route, is that sort of dirt roads that kind of, you know, anybody who's sort

Of comfortable riding a bike is likely to be able to achieve?

Yeah, totally. It's about 50% payment, 50% dirt, and you get a nice little taste of this cool road called corral Creek, or you ride out and you get a view of the pioneer mountains. And it is kind of like this little little teaser to, to one show you that, Hey, riding on growls just fine. And number two to make you feel like you want to see what's over that next Hill on the pioneer mountains. Cool.

Nice. And then does the French fry get into any sort of dual track or single truck,

The French fries and the big potato they had out the same way. And so you know, you climb the really big Hill at the beginning up to trail Creek summit and that's the same route that the wagons came over during the or days, you know, where they were mining for or across the Hills. They come over that same Hill and much of that terrain as you had up and over that Hill. It's kind of the gateway into the copper basin, which is very remote, very few homes. It really looks the same as it did a hundred years ago and it's the same route that the giant wagons traveled over. And that's the parade that we have is our wagon days parade. So it's pretty cool. Once you leave Catchum, you know, you ride about 20 minutes on pavement then you drop cell phone coverage, then you hit the dirt and you don't get off the dirt until you return back to town.

So you really do, it is kind of a gateway for me into like going back in time and you leave the technology, you, you leave it all behind and, and climb up and over trail Creek summit, that first big climb, that's the biggest climb of the route, which people are always kind of like, Oh my gosh, it's such a big climb. But what's really nice is it's pretty cold in the mornings in the mountains at that time of year. And so it does two things. It warms everybody up and it also really breaks apart the groups. And so it's nice if you're, you're nervous about riding in a big group or like me, you, you like to ride in smaller groups. The trail Creek Hill climb really does kind of separate everyone. So you end up with these nice pods of, you know, might be a 1500 person start line, but almost immediately it doesn't feel like that because the Hill kind of puts you where you know where you should be and people that are riding your speed and it instantly makes the community feel smaller. And that's the biggest climb of the day. So I was telling people once you're up and over that, you know, it's not the biggest challenge of the day, but it's definitely the biggest climb of the day that you get out of the way early.

And how much, how much elevation are you gaining in that climb?

I think it's about 1200 feet. So you know, you go from, you go from, you go from 58, 6,000 feet up to eight. No, it's, I have to look, I should know this number. It's, yeah, it's, it's over a thousand feet of climbing. And so a nice big time you know, I think fastest times are, you know, 35 ish minutes up at S, you know, up to twice as long as that. So, so you get warmed up right away, get nice and nice and sweaty and into the group, and then you really do drop into what feels like you're going back into time into the copper basin in that area. And both the tater tot and or sorry, both the French fry and the baked potato go up and over and do the same beginning part of the course and share a lot of the same course.

Cool. And then, so you're over that Hill then what's next on the big of the baked potato? Yeah, in the copper basin. You know, then you hit some nice smooth fast road for a while where the road diesel will be enjoying that. It's a pretty well traveled road. But then we hang a right over towards wild horse. It gets chunky again. And what's cool, the summit that you've climbed over for trail Creek, you're, you're crossing the pioneer mountains. And so the view from Ketchum, you see the pioneers from, you know, from the one side, from the West, and then you cross over and you, you just get these beautiful views of this mountain range from the other side. And so you're completely on the other side of the range. It's very remote. You'll see antelope, you'll see you know, probably more wildlife and definitely more bicycles than you will cars.

And it's all public land out there. There's a few ranches but mostly it's public land. And so it's, it's really a special place. And there I do, like I said, I do put people on a couple turnoffs that are nice and chunky. So WildHorse Canyon is a Canyon that both courses go up the French fry and the baked potato and that gets real chunky and you know, loose gravel and splits. The Peloton is apart again. And then that's the point where the French fry folks turn around and head home back to catch them. And the baked potato people continue on to copper basin loop road, which is, you know, your along the big lost river for a while, which is really beautiful. And then you do the copper basin loop, and that's the most remote loop. It's 23 mile loop.

I think that's one of the hardest parts of the course, cause you're the first, the furthest out you have the longest stretch between rest stops. And the road is, is quite bumpy, can be quite windy. But it's also in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the course and you really are rewarded with these stunning views of the mountains. So I try to get people to look up if they can back there. And then you have the long journey home. You know, at that point when you finished copper basin, you still got 30 miles to get, to get back to catch him. And you know, there is a very predictable headwind that happens every day. You will have a headwind going home from private Idaho. It's just how it is. The slower you are, the stronger your headwind will be.

So it's motivation to get yourself back up and over been over trail Creek, your last rest stop. And then one of the most beautiful distance in the world over the climb that you came up in the morning is back into Ketchum down the trail Creek you know, Hill climb and, and back to the wood river Valley. And it's pretty special. I mean I, I train on that Hill all the time cause it's really nice, awesome grade of a Hill. And I never used to see anybody like doing intervals or riding up and down that Hill. And what's cool now is I see people all the time just out there and it's, it's pretty awesome.

Yeah. And for those of you haven't been to Idaho, I encourage you to go on Rebecca site, the Rebecca private Idaho site, and check out some of the images. They just look spectacular. I love it.

It's pretty special. And that's the point. You know, we ride our bikes to challenge ourselves and I'm all about being competitive and pushing myself and going hard. But we also ride our bikes to be with our tribe and then to be in a beautiful place. And it really is, you know, people place and purpose, you know, those are kind of the things that, that drive me for private Idaho is the people that get to come here and be part of it and, and share this special place that I live. And then the purpose, which is, you know, as we talked about a little bit about the be good foundation and helping other people ride bikes.

Yeah. Yeah. So we talked about how you can pop in, you can do just the Sunday event, but you've, you've created this whole kind of four day ride experience. So if you're signing up for the whole shebang, I know we do a rider meeting on Wednesday, but tell us about Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Yeah. So Thursdays

Of course. And I will say, you know, this stage Reese at this point I'm the queen stage race. It is sold out because it's only, my permit only allows 250 people. And so it's a much smaller offering as I can expand that I will. And so for those of you who are bummed, you're not in the stage race. I do have on, on Saturday there's a ride. On Thursday we do a, a night or Friday we do a night ride. That is a we're a dark sky preserve. And we're also we have some history with Ernest Hemingway here who lived here. He wrote here and eventually took his life here. And so we do a dark sky reserve, Hemingway ride to some of his haunts, like his grave and the Hemingway Memorial and read some poetry. So even if you're not in the stage race, I do try to put in a whole bunch of rides that are open to anybody so that if you come here for a few days you have something to do with us.

And there's the parade. We have two different expos. So if you're not in a stage race, don't be all bummed out and sign up earlier next year. But stage one is and they're all different with this. The goal of this stage race was to show people three very distinct, different parts of the wood river Valley. And so stage one is it the Galena, Galena lodge trails. And that is mostly single track mountain bike trails really that are rideable a hundred gravel bike. You know, and you do have to use the same bike for all three stages. You can change tires, but you know, you can't ride a mountain bike. And stage one, a TT bike on stage two, for example. And so stage one is a lot of single track, quite a bit of climbing. You're up at higher elevation.

I'm about 50% single track. And then the other 50% is a non-motorized trail that is our cross country ski trail and sort of double track ish wide. But that's the Harriman trail and that goes to up and down the entire wood river Valley. And so you do a bunch of single track and then you drop onto the Harriman trail. And that's a about a 50 mile stage. And I think when you times are about three hours, but it's, it's, it's cool because you're doing like whooped dues and bermed corners and you know, roots and rocks. You know, on a mountain bike it would feel like easy single track. But on a gravel bike and it gets pretty spicy, there's a lot of flat tires. There's, there's a lot to be said. If, if you have the skill of a mountain biker you're just going to be able to avoid flats a little better, be smoother, you know, and find a better line. So it, the mountain bikers really love that stage. And I think for the gravel writers, what's cool is it really shows you where you can take your gravel bike. I have had so many people finish that stage who were like, Oh my gosh, now this opens up a whole like menu for me at home. I didn't know I could take my gravel bike on that type of riding. And that's, I really love that because it opens their mind to go explore where they live.

And then stage two is I, stage two is probably my favorite stage because the race part of it is only five, four and a half miles, the uphill time trial. But the whole stage together is 50 miles because there's like a 20 mile neutral ride out to this very remote Hill called dollar summit. And then a neutral ride back. And so it's kind of the best, it's the best part because everybody's riding chill. They want to save their legs for the, their race segment, the time segment. And so for 20 miles, you're just riding and chatting with all my friends and all the pros are up there talking to each other and it's cool. Social ride with a really hard uphill time trial. And then a social ride home and there's hot Springs on the way back. You always see people who are like got into the hot Springs and they're soaking there on the way back from the ride. And so it just feels really festive. Even though you know you're going to taste blood in your mouth on the uphill part of the time trial the rest of it is super fun and exciting and, and I really love that stage. It's my favorite one.

And then there's a rest day for the stage race folks and that Saturday and so that's the day of the parade. We have a big social ride. If people want to do that, that is free to anybody. We have our welcome expo that happens with, you know, vendors and you know, all that kind of good stuff. So Saturday is a pretty fun social day. And then Sunday, you know, of course is the big day with the baked potato, the French fry and the tater tot and 1500 people all lining up. And then, you know, when we finish, we have a giant expo with live music and you know, shooting potato guns and you know, there's a game we had called Gulen de coughing that is sort of like you know, sliding beers into the air and trying to catch them and pour them on your face. But yeah, I mean, people take it seriously when, you know, they're the writing of chill Creek, but the idea is to celebrate when you come back. And, and we've had we had a wedding at the finish line last year. That was pretty exciting. There's a lot of cool stuff that goes on at the end.

Yeah, it sounds like an amazing weekend. In addition to the amazing writing and event that you've put together, you're also focused on raising some money for your, the be good foundation, right?

Yeah, exactly. And I'm, you know, private item has always been a fundraising ride and I've always partnered with sorry, I can hear my dog bark panel here. That's Gracie. So private Idaho has always been a fundraising ride since you're number one. And my goal really was to give back to bike charities that I feel really strongly about and I wanted to do that on a local, national and global scale. And so locally we have combined, we have partnered with our wood river trails coalition, which, you know, takes care of our trails here and our local Idaho, Idaho high school cycling league. So those are our local partners nationally, people for bikes, which if you don't know, they do the hard work. With the government to maintain transportation funding for bikes and pedestrian and you know, non-motorized transportation support around, you know, the U S and then globally the world bicycle relief, which, which helps provide bikes for people in Africa to make their lives easier to get to school, get to market.

And so from year number one, I've always partnered with those groups. Last year I was able to officially launch my foundation called the be good foundation and the be good mission statement, you know, it was the impetus for, it was the ride I did down the whole human trail to find the place where my dad's plane was shot down and I came back from that ride realizing I could use my bike for a bigger purpose. And so I launched the be good foundation in his name because it is how my dad signed all of the letters home from the Vietnam war that he wrote to us. And so I felt like he was giving me a message and I was able to officially launch the foundation last year. And the mission statement really is to use the bike as a catalyst for empowerment, healing evolution.

And so I have kind of three main categories that I work under. One is clearing unexploded ordinance in Laos along the [inaudible] trail and the bombs that are still left there from the Vietnam war. And so every year I do a big fundraising ride over there and do a lot of work to clear those bombs. And second big mission is to provide bike access for people from Idaho to Africa. And that's where private Idaho falls in, is putting bikes in more people's hands under their legs. And, and you know, whether they're using a bike in Africa to get to school or whether a kid is using a bike to with the high school cycling league to find confidence and learn who they are or, you know, or you're riding with me, I'm in private Idaho. And so, so that's the second big mission. And then the third big mission of the be good is protecting public lands and the spaces where we want to all ride.

And I honestly believe that nature is therapy for people and if we don't protect these public spaces you know, one, we don't have anywhere to ride our bikes, but I also feel like our sort of emotional health is really tied to open spaces. And so that's what the be good, excuse me. That's what the be good foundation is about. And it's so cool to see how many people come together during private Idaho and year round. Actually people are realizing that you and me and a lot of us really do need that tool. It's a simple two wheeled machine. That really does do a lot more than just make us physically strong.

Yeah, absolutely. I think in this time where this year where we've all experienced personal and municipal restrictions around our time and where we can go, it's become all the more important and all the more kind of valued. When you're able to get out there and ride amongst all this turmoil in the world, you can just free yourself. Do you, as you said before, when you get over that first mountain pass and you just feel like you're in this remote area, it's so invigorating and revitalizing for your soul.

Yes, it is. I know. And it's like, it's hard as that Hill is. It does. It's like an entry, you know, you work super hard physically to get up the top of trail Creek and then you're just like, okay, you know, and you get this downhill on this breath of fresh air and like no buildings, no cell phone and it is an entry into another place. And hopefully people can mimic that in their backyard, on their trainer indoors, you know, with some visualization. But I do believe we all need to get to that sort of physical and emotional place on a pretty regular basis.

Yeah. And I think that's one of the things that we, going back to the first part of our conversation, the gravel bike is this great enabler. I've always been surprised, you know, even in a, you know, 15 miles North of San Francisco where I live, if I put a little bit of effort in, I can be riding completely by myself and see no one. And that is just such a gift.

That's really, it is a gift. It's really special.

Yeah. Well, Rebecca, thanks so much for giving us an overview of Rebecca's private Idaho. I will put a link to the website and registration and hopefully people can hustle over and still at least get a slot in the final day event.

Yeah, there is space and the tater tot, the French fry and the baked potato right now. So hopefully I'm, yeah, people go in and sign up and I really look forward to hosting you and everybody else in my hometown in September.

Right on. Thanks Rebecca. Absolutely be good.