May 31, 2022
This week we sit down with Jess Cerra and Sam Boardman to discuss the Last Best Ride in Montana. Held in Whitefish, MT in August, Last Best Ride boasts not only an amazing route, but also an amazing community.
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Automated Transcription, please excuse the typos:
[00:00:00] Craig Dalton: Hello, and welcome to the gravel ride podcast, where we go deep on the sport of gravel cycling through in-depth interviews with product designers, event organizers and athletes. Who are pioneering the sport
I'm your host, Craig Dalton, a lifelong cyclist who discovered gravel cycling back in 2016 and made all the mistakes you don't need to make. I approach each episode as a beginner down, unlock all the knowledge you need to become a great gravel cyclist. This week on the podcast. We welcome Jess, Sarah and Sam Boardman onto the show to talk about Montana's last best ride.
Many of you will probably recognize justice name as a gravel cyclist, often at the front end of the pack of these gravel races. She's also the founder of Jo J bar and currently as vice president of product and community development at both Joe, Jay and salt stick. She's also a member of the Pinarello Scuderia project.
And a long time envy athlete. Sam Boardman, not as well known on the gravel cycling scene, but certainly a crusher out there on the road. He's a member of the powerful Legion squad and riding very well. Having one stage three of the Joe Martin stage race.
Recently. The two partners have come together to create last best ride as a showcase for the love of their home in Whitefish, Montana. I hope you enjoy learning more about this event. It certainly sounds from all accounts that it's a great community event. And a spectacular ride. Before we jump in i need to thank this week sponsored the feed.
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You're not going to forget anything in a bottle somewhere on the other shelf. Everything's in those. Personalized formula packages in their daily pouch. You can get 50% off your first order, simply visit the feed.com/the gravel ride. Would that business behind us let's jump right in to my interview with just sarah and sam boardman Hey, Jess, Sam, welcome to the show.
[00:03:18] Jess and Sam: Hey, Craig. Thanks for having us, Craig. It's good to be here.
[00:03:22] Craig Dalton: Where am I speaking to you at right now?
[00:03:25] Jess and Sam: We're in a beautiful and snowy, Whitefish, Montana.
[00:03:30] Craig Dalton: It's hard to believe. I literally just had a pool party for my son this past weekend in California. And you're still getting snow over there.
[00:03:37] Jess and Sam: Yeah, we little bit embarrassing, but Rose Grant is a professional mountain biker who also lives here. And we tried to do a ride on Friday and we had to get rescued and we know what we're doing. We failed the pool parties.
[00:03:54] Craig Dalton: Yeah, not this time of year anyway, was the listener knows. We always like to start off the show by learning a little bit more about your background and how you came to gravel cycling. And then I'm excited to talk to both of you about last best ride and the big gravel events you've got coming up this summer.
So just why don't we start off with you and just talk a little bit about your journey to cycling and how you found yourself riding off road.
[00:04:16] Jess and Sam: Yeah.
Well, I'm actually from Whitefish, Montana, which is something not a lot of people can say. And I growing up here. You have an affinity for the outdoors? No matter what I think most people who move here and raise families live here because they want to spend time outside. With that said cycling, wasn't a huge part of growing up here.
I pretty much found cycling in grad school. I. I went to the university of Montana for my undergrad, studied exercise physiology, and then moved to San Diego to pursue my master's in the same field. And it was when I was studying elite athletes in the lab and actually bringing cyclists into our exercise physiology lab.
That my curiosity was peaked and I ended up randomly doing a VO two max test on a lab bike and finding that I had the engine, I just needed a bike and all the things that go with it. So one of my professors was I'm on a mountain bike team and she helped me get started. And I started on that team and I raced Xterra off-road triathlon and mountain bikes for a long time.
And then I. Professional road racing career after that. And instead of officially retiring, I say that I evolved into gravel cycling because I think gravel is that area where you, you can be a pro without having to only be competitive, you can bring value to the sport in other ways.
[00:05:54] Craig Dalton: Yeah, absolutely. So unpacking that, I'll just a tiny bit first off for the uninitiated. Explain exactly where Whitefish is located in, in Montana.
[00:06:04] Jess and Sam: So it's up in the Northwestern corner. It's tucked by Flathead lake in glacier national park, which is a big draw to the area. We're about 30 minutes away from glacier. What like nine 90 minutes on the bike. If I'm drafting behind Sam.
[00:06:20] Craig Dalton: and then it's pretty close to the Canadian border. Is that right?
[00:06:24] Jess and Sam: Yeah. like an hour from the Canadian border.
[00:06:27] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Amazing. And when you were growing up, were you doing other endurance athletics, like running or skiing?
[00:06:33] Jess and Sam: Yeah. So we, you know, and we'll touch on this. When we talk about the mission for the last best ride I grew up in, you know, a pretty humble family, pretty low income. So access to. A lot of sports like cycling or skiing?
It was a little tricky for us. There's a ton of community support here. There's actually grants for kids to participate.
So I was able to do some Nordic skiing that way. We have an outdoor figure skating rink, and I did some figure skating with some of those grants. But it's funny because looking back, I was always drawn to endurance. I just didn't have an example of what endurance as a sport or as a career would be like something like professional cycling.
And you think that I would, and in Montana that, that I wouldn't have that, but it just really wasn't something that was part of our daily life. You know, my parents were focused on working and I grew up with a single mom, so. That was challenging, but she did her best to get us outside. We did a lot of hiking and exploring here.
[00:07:41] Craig Dalton: Amazing. And then, so when you went to college and you discovered the bike for the first time, as you started to become involved in. That the team aspects of road racing, was it immediately apparent that you had an engine that was better suited for the longer, more endurance stuff versus sprint site?
[00:07:58] Jess and Sam: Yes. It's funny how you, you learn that. I actually was a really strong climber and I think that I began goes back to. The VO two max and lung capacity, but definitely I like to suffer for a really long time, rather than compacting that all into five seconds. So those were the systems that I trained.
[00:08:22] Craig Dalton: yeah, that makes sense. And then Sam, how about you? Where, where did you grow up and what was your journey to the bike? Like.
[00:08:28] Jess and Sam: Well, I'll tell you that, but first I want to add something to justice story that she did not add, which I think is the funniest part, the random aspect of her introduction to cycling. Wasn't so random. It was. Part of the protocol for her research was taking the temperatures of the athletes, who she was studying.
And to do that back in the day when she was doing it, the only way to do that was through a rectal thermometer.
[00:08:56] Craig Dalton: I thought that's where we're going.
[00:08:57] Jess and Sam: So the people who were doing the studies, they were always super jilted because they would always come in according to way adjust all that. And they would say, well, have you done the test?
And eventually she just wanted to say like, but yes, I've done the past. And that's how she actually took the test and how she was discovered by her superior supervisors as a very gifted endurance athletes. So people should know it was not so much random. Low grade bullying and yeah,
[00:09:27] Craig Dalton: I love it.
[00:09:28] Jess and Sam: it's I don't know. I just, I liked that because it's, it's similar to this rumor and legend.
I heard about Alex House where as an endurance athlete, everyone who he talked to, who he told I'm a professional cyclist and he would tell them like ever in the tour de France and stuff like that, they'd be like, yeah. Cool, cool, cool. Have you run a marathon? He always was just saying, no, I've never run a marathon.
And then apparently, and this is what legend has at one day. You just woke up and was like, gosh, darn it. I just need to run a marathon so that when people ask me that from now on, I can say, yes, we did. And he like broke all his toes or something like that. And just bloody wind speed. But point is, it's an important detail.
[00:10:08] Craig Dalton: yeah. Now he's a reasonable athlete, according to the best people out there.
[00:10:12] Jess and Sam: yeah. With a rectal thermometer. No,
[00:10:17] Craig Dalton: Well, you never know.
[00:10:19] Jess and Sam: my my introduction to the bike was a lot less invasive, I guess you could say. It w it was brought on mostly as a way to fill the void that I had in my life when I left running. And I say left running as if it was like something that I chose to retire from it wasn't, it was just my life in high school.
And when I, when I discovered it freshman year, I, you know, fell in love with it. And it just was everything that I wanted to do. And when it came time to apply to college, I realized like the only schools that I wanted to go to having come from very small private school and wanting to broaden my horizons, as far as my educational experience goes, were large state schools with very, very competitive running programs where, I mean, they had these kinds of schools were pumping out national champions left and right.
And if I wanted to be part of, you know, the, a squad, the division one squad, I would either have. Scrap my way onto the team so that I could just race be races or I would have to run at the club level and doing either of those didn't really fit in my competitive zeal that I accrued during my high school life and running.
And I knew that it would also probably destroy the love that I had for the sport, because it would probably just Jade me to the point where I didn't want to do it anymore. So I decided to just try something new, find something. In the meantime, the summer between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college, which having gone to UCLA who were on the quarter system and they notoriously start very late.
I had five months off between when I ended my senior year and when I started college and it wasn't because I took a semester off or anything, it's just, that's how the calendar works. So I had a lot of free time to figure out what I wanted to do. In the meantime, I was working as a janitor in my high school, and my parents had gotten me a fixed gear bike to commute, to work with.
And I just fell in love with scooting around in the city. And just finding the bike scene in Washington, DC, where I grew up and discovering the bike and that kind of communal aspect. And then finally come August. Of 2014. I decided I wanted to get a road bike because as is the natural progression for most people that I've talked to in cycling, you wanted to be able to go further and go faster and actually be able to change gears and not blow your knees out of their sockets.
So I use the money that I've gotten working as a janitor and bought my first road bike, went to California, found the club team and just became obsessed. Race the club scene for three years when I was in college, until I got onto a domestically amateur team and then started branching out into more competitive national events.
And then I signed my first pro contract in 29.
[00:13:14] Craig Dalton: Amazing and shout out to rock Creek park in DC for a little road riding.
[00:13:20] Jess and Sam: I grew up. Yeah.
Rock Creek park. It's I mean, it's funny. It's like I go back there very frequently and I basically rediscover or discover for the first time, in some cases, parts of the cycling scene, which is super exciting to me because having grown up there. You know, you think, oh, I know everything about it, but it's actually really cool to be able to go to your hometown and find something absolutely new to it in the sphere of what you love to do.
And that it's actually robbery park is one of my favorite places to ride it's right by my house.
[00:13:52] Craig Dalton: Yeah, quick aside. I, I went to school at American university in Washington, DC and discovered mountain biking and amazing. So I discovered a mountain biking in DC, which is very sort of counterintuitive, right? Like where would you find green space to mountain bike in DC? But as you probably know, there's all these sort of interconnected green spaces in Washington, DC, that once you sorta tipped off to them, you sort of do a little section.
They're all short of obviously. You're a little section, then you go around next to some apartment buildings you find another section to do, and you can do these neat hour long loops in the city.
[00:14:25] Jess and Sam: Oh,
my gosh. I mean, I. So much credit I have to give to my high school running coach to who instilled in me the kind of sense of adventure. And you could call it, I call it organic navigation, but most people know that as being bad at directions where it's basically kind of just, you know, where to go when the road looks a certain way, or you kind of just decide, you're going to feel out your route.
And he was the one who introduced me to just looping together. Different routes. So, I mean, like you're saying, we would start in Tenleytown, we'd go download the Archibald trail through Georgetown we'd loop through all these little random back trails that kind of nestled themselves in the woods through spring valley and all these areas where it's just, you know, he taught me how to just have fun exploring during your training
[00:15:16] Craig Dalton: Yeah, absolutely. And another shout out to the CNO canal, many miles on that canal
[00:15:21] Jess and Sam: many miles on the CNO canal.
[00:15:24] Craig Dalton: So great. So you you've, you're racing professionally on the road. How did you find yourself in Montana?
[00:15:30] Jess and Sam: So just being from here ever since we met, had always talked about wanting to go back. I mean, I think she can tell you that she never really clicked with big city living or at least like being in larger urban areas with. It never really bothered me. Having grew up in Washington, DC, moved to LA for college and then moved to San Diego.
It was funny where we were living in north county, San Diego Encinitas. That was pretty sleepy beach town in my mind. And just at the time it was living in Oceanside two towns up, which again, very small town in my mind, but there's still towns of 150, 200,000 people. And it's all part of one big conglomerate to call it, you know, its own town.
It's kind of ridiculous because similar to LA it's just, you know, San Diego county LA become just massive giant cities with little pockets of populations here and there. But eventually when it came time for us to leave where we were living in Encinitas, she decided she wanted to move back to wipe this.
And she said, if you want to be with me, I'm going to be up there. So ball's in your court. So the decision was pretty easy. So now I'm here. But Yeah.
honestly, I've, I think I've taken to it pretty amazingly. I mean, I love the writing that we have up here. I love the community that's up here and it's just a very welcoming place that.
Just champions, outdoor living in every form that you can imagine. And I think what was really important to me as someone whose life has revolved around road racing for the past seven years, it was I think, a big step for me to try and find a place that I could visualize myself living, where I could have fun where the road bike wasn't the apps.
Epicenter of my existence. And you know, this past winter, I learned how to ski for the first time and my knees are still intact. So that was sweet. And I learned that I loved it. And that really gave me a lot of, I mean, hope is a weird word to use, but it did where it's like, you know, there's this kind of panic that sets in sometimes when you think about, oh my gosh, what am I going to do when I leave competitive road cycling?
I mean, there's just so much to try out here. There's so much to do and so much stuff to have fun with that. You know, I'm really glad that I was brought up here because now having lived here for a couple months now, it's just, it's hard to imagine being back in a big city, it really is, which is very odd.
I always thought I wanted to stay in a big city.
[00:18:13] Craig Dalton: Yeah, it's interesting. And for listeners who live in California, California, is this weird place, right? You can ride your bike all year round, very little interruption. In fact, it's hard to take a step back and think about having a quote unquote off season. Whereas most places elsewhere in the country, in the world, you have snow, you have real winter and you're forced to do other things.
And I remember growing up on the east coast for me, that was sort of a healthy. Sort of cycle of the year, right? Because you just sort of naturally transitioned to something else, whatever it was in the winter, rather than just riding your bike hard core all year round.
[00:18:50] Jess and Sam: oh yeah. I was pretty nervous even. Yeah. Being the one that pushed us to move here and what our long rides every weekend are so important to me. And to your point, I feel healthier. I feel it is so nice to just take a break from those things, because now I'm looking forward to riding more than usual, but it also is weird to not be so fit and may
[00:19:16] Craig Dalton: Yeah,
[00:19:16] Jess and Sam: I'm used to being so, so come may.
[00:19:21] Craig Dalton: not quite there yet this year.
[00:19:23] Jess and Sam: quite there yet. It's also like your life has changed too. Yeah. And my life revolves more around work. I mean, so the thing that I discovered is. To justice credit. Like she's just, she's training differently now because she's working multiple jobs, basically with organizing the race and her own full-time job and balancing training competing.
But to her credit, if she wanted to be fit and trained, she could. And that's just the thing about being in an environment that's not California, which is perfect weather all the time. He kind of just ended up getting creative. Like you, you know, during the winter, Jess was doing a bunch of. Yoga yoga sculpt doing some like gym workouts at home.
She was doing endurance hit workouts at home. Yeah. You did a ski race. I mean, it's just, I honestly think that it, you know, for me and I re I reckon for justice as well. It actually was very refreshing to be in an environment where bike racing and bike riding. Wasn't the only way that you could get fit.
And it actually felt good. Going into the season, having not just written my bike and myself into oblivion, because it actually got me excited for the season, whereas an excited to ride my bike more like justice thing. Whereas I found in, you know, past years, sometimes you get to the end of your base training phase, which for most Californians, I mean their base training starts in October, November, and it goes all the way until January, February, where racing starts pretty early relative to.
Season or re rest of the country. And by the time you get to that first race of the season, you're just like, oh my God, I can't stand training anymore. I need to race. I need a race. Whereas this year, I mean, I took some time off and then learned how to ski. And that was like the first couple of weeks of off season activities was just learning how to do the activity and then doing those activities and actually staying fit in a relatively, you know, fun way that was new.
And then by the time I got. To the point where I was supposed to raise, I was actually really excited to just like be on my bike, not just race, but like be outside in the warm weather where my knees can be exposed to the elements.
[00:21:36] Craig Dalton: Being part of the Legion program. Did you find yourself, had you hit the fitness you needed to hit for some of the late the races they had you slated to.
[00:21:43] Jess and Sam: I think it was in, I would say probably not the fitness that I would have wanted, but again, it was. I don't think I was actually unfit for the races. I just don't think I was fit in the way that a lot of the people who I was racing and surfing and in the sense of like racing fitness, because a lot of the riders coming from warmer climates who are doing those early season races, that the program that Legion does in California, they've been racing since January.
And I literally just flown from a blizzard. And we'd seen a lot of snow during the winter. And I was mostly doing like base training work starting in December, going through February to one of my first race in Arizona was, and it's not that I felt, felt unfit to the point where I couldn't finish the races.
It's just like That top end wasn't there. But now, you know, having had a bunch of races under my belt and we're going into the next block, which is like the key block, the target block of the year from. I do feel a lot fitter and I don't feel the same level of burnt out as I would normally at this time of the year where I'm just like praying hands and knees for break after the blast block.
So I actually, I did feel less fit, but, you know, I felt like I was excited to raise again.
[00:23:03] Craig Dalton: That makes sense. And then just for you racing gravel this year, you're part of a program. Do you want to talk about that team you're involved in and what your goals are for the year?
[00:23:15] Jess and Sam: Yeah. So the scooter Rhea Pinarello program is sort of a multi-faceted program that emphasizes what I was mentioning earlier that there's unique skillsets and unique people. They deserve to have an opportunity in the cycling world. And so. The idea of our marketing director of Pinarello is Kim Rogers.
And she's just an incredibly hard worker. I have a lot of respect for what she's accomplished with the program in the first year, and then leading into this year. But we're a group of athletes that range from competitors to adventure, people, to community leaders. So my role is a community leader. And basically what that means is I'm none of my partners and of my sponsors expect me to be winning races are on the podium.
And that's something that I've communicated to everyone and they they've accepted, you know, I've had my time for that. Being a trained really hard and, and won races and had the injuries and then the whole deal. And now it's what I really want to focus on is helping more people get into the sport, making it a welcoming place where you know, all types of people are accepted and have opportunities and just being able to.
Represent amazing brands like Pinarello at large events is, is super important. And it's like, because I don't care about a result, I'm going out there to have fun. And the pressure isn't there, you open yourself up to creating those experiences with people. Like I'm constantly on my feet in the sun before I do an event and talking and hanging out and. My, the energy bar company that I founded, Joe Davis. Is now a part of a larger suite of sports, nutrition brands, and my company kind of mirrors. We go to the events that mere my schedule with Pinarello and support. So I'm also doing that on the side. And it's just, it's super fun to. To know that we're in a place now where the emphasis isn't always on results.
I mean, that's amazing. It's super cool. I still look up to the women who are crushing it right now. And I think that is great, but it's also really more relatable to a lot of people who have families and work and see like they do, they do have a place and you don't have to come to an event to. You can come to just ride your bike and meet people and you'll be accepted and you're not doing anything weird.
You're probably doing what 95% of the other people around you are doing. So Yeah.
it's, it's, it's a good, it's a good, a good team for me, for sure.
[00:26:12] Craig Dalton: Awesome. Let's take a two minute detour and hear about your company. What can you tell us about like the judge, a bar philosophy and the types of products that you make?
[00:26:21] Jess and Sam: Yeah. So this is also a concept that after grad school, I decided not to do a PhD, which was the track that I was on. Like from high school, I knew I wanted to do this path and I was really into research and I diverted to pursue cycling and I. I had met a nutritionist who I worked with and she was a private chef.
And so I started helping her kind of as her assistant at first. And then I ended up taking over her clientele when she moved away. So that's kind of the piece about nutrition and being in the food world, but is important to the story. So I had this background in exercise physiology. I S I started this private chef company.
I started catering events and I really focused on just fresh food healthy food that people who wanted to be active, wanting to eat. And I just took the guesswork out of it. So, at the time, this wasn't in 2008. 10 ish. There was really no good energy bars out there. We weren't in this food revolution where there's like all of this amazing all these amazing choices when you walk into whole foods or whatever.
And so I thought I wanted to create something that was delicious, but tastes in homemade. My favorite things to eat are. Cookies or baked goods or stopping by the bakery before I ride. I also wanted it to make sense from a macronutrient standpoint. And so I kind of flip the script on how bars were made.
They were always really carb-heavy before which we need, but I also wanted to add in more fat for. Those zones that are more endurance and I wanted it to be something that was digestible and you could eat, eat a lot of it. At the time I had a coach who had Lyme's disease and was on a gluten-free diet.
And so I thought, well, I'll try making it gluten-free little. Did I know that that segment was going to blow up in the future and become so. So I created this bar and it was just kind of a rinky-dink operation out of my kitchen at first. And I actually, some of my private chef clients helped me move into my first co-packer and I was in a small co-packer down in San Diego and just grew the brand grassroots style within the cycling and trapline community.
And a big, the big wind for Joe Jay was when we got into REI. And I think we were accepted at the end of 2018, and that really helped our, the brand breech our people in the outdoor space and in let's see. I think of October of 2019, I was approached by this company called elite active nutrition is the name now a L E T E, which means all athletes, not elite athletes.
And they reached out to me. They had started this platform by acquiring
electrolyte brand called salt stick. Really huge in the triathlon world. I'm hopefully helping it become huge in the travel world. So they reached out to me about acquiring Joe, Jay, and it was a great fit because it allowed me at this point, I was caught up in all of the logistics of running a business.
And also the logistics of being the hamster in the wheel of cashflow when you own a small business. And this allowed me to step away from that. And I'll admit, I don't love entrepreneurship from that standpoint. I just am wired in a way where I want to help other people and I want to do the right thing.
And I want a brand that does those things. And I really don't like the other part of it. This company enabled me to do that. They said, we're going to take all of that. We have a team in place already, and then you can create your role in the company and you will come on and you will do that role. And so it was a perfect fit.
They didn't want to take the bar and change it and, you know, cut the margins and do, do all the things that sometimes larger companies want to do. So I created my role of VP, of product and community developers. Enjoying this team, we've now also acquired bonk breaker and we'll be acquiring two other brands.
And yeah, so that's what I do. I work on product development. We're developing some new flavors right now. And then I also, like I mentioned, I get to be out in the community and we, I get to lead all of our brands and make sure that we. Have at our heart and soul, we are an accepting platform. We have a diverse group of athletes and ambassadors.
We're inclusive. We're thinking about doing the right things for the environment in sport and all of those, you know, amazing things that I like to focus on. So, sorry, that was not two minutes. That was like five.
[00:31:32] Craig Dalton: That's okay. Now I appreciate the entrepreneurial journey and that's a great outcome and amazing that the vision can now be propelled forward, you know, with the distribution that maybe you weren't going to be able to achieve this company can get it out there even further and allow you to focus on what you love.
[00:31:49] Jess and Sam: Exactly.
[00:31:50] Craig Dalton: fabulous and allow you more time to start things like gravel races in your hometown.
[00:31:55] Jess and Sam: Yes.
[00:31:56] Craig Dalton: So let's talk about that. I mean, I love talking to event organizers because I think it's such a, such an art behind creating an experience that is native to the community that you're in and showcases everything you want to showcase.
I feel like it's like a love letter to your commute. When you design a gravel course, and I love designing courses here in Moran. So I'd love to hear about the inspiration for last best ride. And then let's talk about the details. Let's get the listener stoke to put it on their calendar.
[00:32:25] Jess and Sam: Okay. Well, I think to back up a little bit, when we first started spending a lot of time here was in 2020 during the Panda. When we realized we weren't going to be doing any racing. And we kind of did the thing that everyone was doing. We scattered to a smaller place only. This is my home. And we also bought a piece of land at that time, which turned out to be total baller, move that we had no idea.
This is going to be like the best decision of our lives, but I think. We, so to Sam's point about being adventurous, he started exploring and making these gravel routes for us, these crazy off-road routes. And he didn't even have a gravel bike yet, but he was taking me places that I had never been after growing up here.
And remember the first gravel. Right. We did. You did it on your road bike, that old KTM bike and yeah. We ride this route consistently now. And we're like, how on earth did you write this on your road bike? Like we it's like when you don't know any better, when you first start exploring off road, like you might throw some wider tires on your road bike.
And you're like, oh yeah, like, so we were kind of exploring and realizing that this place is prime for a gravel event. I had also. My first event, the season before was our friend, Kevin Laura King run an event in Vermont called rooted Vermont, and the little town there from Richmond reminded me of Montana and attending that.
Having such an amazing time. And knowing that gravel was a place that I wanted to be, I thought that they're just nailing it. Like how that the community embraces this event. It's super low key. They make a whole weekend out of it. And I told Laura, I said, my wife is really needs an event like that. It's so incredibly beautiful here.
So. I think we started exploring more and then I can pretty sure I made you ride like an old steel, gravel bike of mine. Remember that? And it was like two sizes too small for you. And then he ordered a gravel bike and we just like, I don't know how we went from. Two rides to like the next day we were at the forest service office with our masks on like knocking on the door where it's like appointments only.
And we were like, hi, we would like to put on an event. They were like, why we're in the middle of a pandemic? Why would you, when you talking about, and we're like, no, it's definitely the, the pandemic won't be here next year. Like we're looking at next year. Little did we know that it was going to be an extended, extended pandemic, but luckily we picked August as our month because you're pretty much guaranteed.
My dad will tell anyone that comes here, that he's seen snow here every month of the year. But if you're going to pick one month, August is a pretty safe bet. So we picked August for our race and that's Yeah.
that's kind of how we started.
[00:35:30] Craig Dalton: and was the community embracing of it. Like I know a lot of rural communities when they hear about the prospect of a thousand athletes coming to town and booking hotel rooms and accommodations and food and all that stuff. They're super excited to get behind it. Were you experiencing that in Whitefish?
[00:35:48] Jess and Sam: Well, there's been a little bit of a shift here and Whitefish?
I believe this was the fastest growing town in the country during COVID. Which is why, when I mentioned us buying this little plot of land we didn't know that was going to happen. I had a, I had a theory. I was kind of actually obsessed about real estate at the time.
I had a theory that something was going to happen because I remember what happened during the last recession. And. So to your question, it's a little different here. It there's a lot of people that come here in the summer in glacier park has gotten so overrun that they now actually have a ticketed entry system.
So it was sort of a balance of knowing that we already have a lot of tourism and this isn't a town that needs that tourism boost to survive. So we wanted to make sure that this event was going to be a net positive for the community and that our community was going to feel supported. And that, again, that it's a positive.
And so that's one of the reasons why we wanted it to focus around our scholarship.
[00:36:56] Craig Dalton: And do you want to describe what that scholarship looks like?
[00:36:59] Jess and Sam: Yeah. So, as I had mentioned before, growing up here fairly low income I did not have a college fund growing up and I had a guidance counselor in high school. My sophomore year that came to our classroom talking about college. And when I found out that it costs money to go to college, I had a little meltdown.
My dad actually took me to her office and we spent three years together working on scholarship applications and I won. So many local scholarships along with Pell grant and federal aid, but I didn't have any
student loans for undergrad and she just had this profound impact on my life. Mostly just because she believed in me and she didn't hold my hand by any means, like she made me do the work, but I've always had this dream of creating a scholarship and.
Giving that back to the community and finding young women who deserve to be uplifted and supported financially. So we figured this rate. Was a good way to accomplish that goal. We both have our careers. We felt like it'd be a perfect way to invest back into the young people and the community. And I full heartedly believe that one of the best ways to get young people into cycling is to equip them with the ability to go out and.
Either learn a trade or get an education and become, you know, get themselves into a place where financially they can afford a bike and they can enjoy that and incorporate into their life. And they're empowered to do that. So it kind of like. What does the bike race have to deal with the scholarship, but it, as Sam put it, he wrote in the tech guy, like simply by attending this race, you are bettering the lives of young women in our area who are, you know, have financial need, but also have academic merit.
[00:39:08] Craig Dalton: Yeah, what's interesting as well is I think just the sh. Participation levels in the community, people who aren't cyclists are going to notice that it's happening and they're going to see and hear that, oh, a scholarship comes out of that. So maybe it even helps some of these younger women become aware that scholarships are available and that a path towards a higher education as possible with these, you know, following the same path that you did.
[00:39:31] Jess and Sam: That's so interesting that you just brought that up because I learned fairly recently that one of our recipients from last year, her friend read about the scholarship and. Her friend did not have financial need, but she, she drugged this young woman down to the counselor's office and said, you have to apply for this.
And she didn't think that she even deserved or knew that she can have that opportunity. And then she ended up being our top recipient. So we were really good point. And that it's like something that I, I want these young women to know that like, you. You deserve a chance and like at least apply for it this year.
We have five recipients. So, and I'm about to go to the scholarship nights at the schools and the next couple of weeks, and actually give the awards out. But we also have seven land permits. So it's pretty, it's an arduous task with the land permits. And I know that. you know, the people who are at the head of these entities, it does mean something to them that, you know, it's not just a bike race.
[00:40:44] Craig Dalton: let's talk about the courses. It sounds like you're going through a lot of different types of properties. So what's the gravel of riding like in Whitefish.
[00:40:51] Jess and Sam: Awesome. I would say it varies from. You know, depending on where you are in the valley, where we live, it can vary from champagne, gravel to straight up single track the way that we like to ride, but the courses themselves traverse through a, I would say pretty wide variety of surfaces. So. Both routes.
We'll take a route that heads east out of town. And you will go up through some logging roads that are owned by a local lumber and
logging company that who are wonderful. They're wonderfully supportive of the event. And that will then transition you into
forest lands, which is where most of I would argue what 90% of our race takes place on 80 to 90% of our race.
And once again, the forest service are wonderfully supportive of the event as well. And we appreciate everything that they've done to help us. They were actually the ones who were. One of the most ardent supporters in the beginning when we were trying to design routes that were cool and they were the ones encouraging us saying, this is exactly what we love public lands to be used for.
Is this kind of recreation that is based in exploration and, you know, cyclo eco-friendly tourism. So then we'll try the routes then traverse through forest lands that. Pretty much wind your way through a bunch of the mountain roads up north of town. So Northeast of town, they will then bring the riders back to a dividing point where there will be an aid station where the short route will then take some more of those forest service road.
Through some single track trails onto mountain property. So we have a local ski resort, big mountain ski resort that has also helped us immensely in providing sections of their property for our route. And that will basically direct riders up to a section of the mountain road where they can then explore some of the single track there and then head back down.
Into town, the long route diverts back to where close to where we started. And then they start heading up north along what is called lake shore drive, which is a beautiful picture of. Road exactly, as it says, which borders the east side of a Whitefish lake, and you make your way north along this road, and it will pretty much on align, transition to gravel, depending on the time of year, it can be either champagne, gravel.
It can be kind of rutted if it's rained or it can be straight up washboard. So you get, you don't know what you're going to get. Typically. It's fairly dry. And it seemed a lot of traffic because that is nearing the end of huckleberry picking season. So a lot of locals will go out that road to some of the secret huckleberries spots that I don't even know where they are.
Cause they're so secret. But so it can typically be a little washboard, but that we'll head north all the way to a road called Warner peak. There is some. Road name and technically most of the roads around here are called forest road or forest service road, big old number. And I should know this because I designed the route, but I get confused and all the digits, but it's commonly in locally known as water peak.
So you bank, you take a right and you start climbing it's about a six mile climb from the turnoff of what is upper Whitefish lake. To the top of Warner peak, and that basically deposits you onto this Ridge line that overlooks the entirety of the valley. it.
truly is on a clear day, a stunning picture SVU and that surface transitions from the kind of predictable, typical valley country champagne S gravel road to pretty Rocky technical climbing.
And the gradients aren't, hellaciously steep in that section, but they are steep enough where you're going to be going slow and you're going to be needing to have some technical savvy to be able to navigate around some of the bigger rocks and sections. And there are also some drainage pipes that are late.
The road to help ease snow melt washing away some of the roads. So if you can practice a little like bunny hopping or lifting your front wheel and back wheel whilst climbing it's summarized. It's one of the hardest climbs. I think you'll find in a gravel race, the hardest climb you'll find in a gravel race comes shortly thereafter.
You descend down the Ridge line that takes you to the backside of the be of big mountain ski resort. Now the course then takes riders to the top of big mountain, the absolute peak where the summit house is. And this is where the ski resort basically has all their chairs going to the very top to get to that.
You go up what we have called the. The mountain goats scramble this big horn sheep, big horn sheep scramble. And basically we discovered this ride on, or this way up on a ride that we did early in 2020 when we were kind of just moseying our way to the backside. And we found ourselves kind of running along the Ridge line of all of the ski slopes.
And we're kind of looking up and seeing all the ski runs and we finally made our way to a service. And we said, Ooh, let's turn up. That, how high can we go? And apparently you can go the highest you physically can, but to do so you have to go up. What is essentially a wall of roughly 35% average gradient for 300 meters, the longest 300 meters of your life.
[00:46:40] Craig Dalton: It is an actually rideable.
[00:46:42] Jess and Sam: So there are two people that we know who have written it on a bike. One of which is me. The other is one Caleb Swartz, who is a Marian university alum who wrote for the bear dev team. And recently completed. Really Stellar's a cyclocross campaign is a private two rider who lives in Missoula. He trains a lot with Howard rots and some of the local Missoula hitters.
He rode his XC bike at the race and he was the only person in the race to ride up the entire scramble without take unclipping, walking his bike.
[00:47:18] Craig Dalton: All right. There's a big challenge for you people out there.
[00:47:20] Jess and Sam: Yeah. So you get to the summit house, there's a feed station. Then you descend down another climb. It's called Taylor Creek, which takes you back to upper Whitefish lake road. And you go back the way you came out
back into town.
[00:47:35] Craig Dalton: right on. So tell me the distances of the short course in the long course.
[00:47:39] Jess and Sam: So the short course.
is 47 miles with about. 4,500 feet of climbing in the long course is 90 miles with that 8,200 feet of climbing. We might have to make a couple tweaks. We know we have to make a couple tweaks. So the short course this year, because of some logging that's happened, but it will be.
Similar within that range. So it's a good, it's a, it's a good distance. Like the pro the pro dudes last year, Ted and Howard, and a local guy named Andrew, Andrew, Frank, they, we could not believe this. They finished. And just under five hours, we, we were expecting like a five 15, but I would say on average the short course would take you.
Around three and a half to four and a half hours in the long course would be close to. I don't know, six, six to seven hours if you're relatively cruising, but it can be a huge range because it's just such a, a hard course. So the benefit of the
the three finishers we've mentioned in there super fast time, the road Taylor Creek, the descent that you take back down into town had just been
basically flattened by logging equipment.
So it wasn't really the gravel that Jess and I had previewed throughout the summer, but it actually was so packed down because of all, it was basically concrete is what it was. And I remember I previewed it actually with Ted on Thursday, before. And we were descending it. And we were looking at each other and saying like, people are going to rip this.
Cause I mean, you didn't even have to worry about dodging any kind of rocks or ruts or anything. It literally was just smooth pavement made out of mud that had been flat. And it rained also, which well, we, we say our race is predicated on the views because. I don't think that as Sam went through this course, like you cannot describe these views.
They are jaw dropping. When we ride here, we're riding in all the time and it never looks the same. It's just so amazing. But then it poured rain, which cleared out all of the wildfires. So that was the benefit and it was very foggy in the morning of the race and people still that it was like a, just like I said, a different kind of view, but that we, I was like calling the medical volunteers.
Like we need to put someone, we need like two people going on that descent, like to medical stations, because I was so afraid that someone was going to be doing like 60 miles an hour down this gravel descent and just fly off into space, but it turned out. We had, I think one of the most advanced medical plans, the forest service actually asked us if they could keep the template of it to use as an example.
And we treated a bee sting and that was it. So the other side, Yeah.
When you become an event director, you're pretty much just stressed out the whole time about someone getting hurt or something going wrong.
[00:50:49] Craig Dalton: a hundred percent. So it sounds like with a fairly rowdy course, you need some pretty capable tires. Is there a size that you recommend?
[00:50:57] Jess and Sam: I mean, I am of the camp of you should run as, as big as you can. It's a, it's a big debate for us on our course, because we know again, given the conditions of really the back sections of the course and the climb, like. I think the debate is now whether a hard tail mountain bike is the fastest bike for our course, but there, there are a lot of sections where having a pretty rigid snappy gravel.
Where you can just easily put out power very consistently would help, but tire wise, as wide as you can run. I mean, I think, and less than the 36, you will not be caught. You will not have a fun 30, 36 is the minimum that you can do to, I would say like complete the ride. You will not be comfortable. You won't necessarily be happy, but you'll be able to get through.
I ride the rose and cert courses around here on my crux, my specialized crux, which is a 2019 model that clears the 38. And I'm pretty comfortable on that bike. I don't ever feel really that I'm under biked. And I went, it's fairly dry and I'm not worried about getting mud in my stays. I will, I can clear a 42 on that bike.
And I would say if I could run that consistently without worry of, you know, starting to take pain off, I'd run a 42 easily. I would say that's probably most traveled bikes. We'll clear 42 minimum. But that's, that's the.
[00:52:34] Craig Dalton: Yeah, no, I appreciate that. I mean, I think that's one of the interesting thing about taking a survey of all the gravel events out there. It's interesting seeing what people recommend, and I'm always frankly, more attracted to the races that are saying, bring your big tires. You're not going to regret it because it means they're getting creative with course design and really pushing the limits and capabilities of both the athletes and the bikes.
So to onto some just not simple. What are the event dates and where can people find out more information about the event and are there still slots available this year?
[00:53:07] Jess and Sam: So our date is Sunday, August 21st, and we have a welcome happy hour and scholarship fundraising evening on Friday, August 19th, that packet pickup and some liberal community rides are Saturday, August 20. Our website is
the last best ride empty as in montana.com. We have been sold out for some time.
We do have a wait list. It's pretty big. So if you got on the wait list now, unfortunately, You're probably planning for 2023, which is actually good because I don't even know if you could find a hotel room or an Airbnb at this point and Whitefish. It's why we send out early communication. Like before Christmas, the year before letting people know, like here's our links to our favorite camping and hotels, and like, here's how to make your life easier to plan to come to this little area.
I just want to say as an aside, because we do talk up this course as being. Hard. It was also very important to us, but it is something that you could do if you're trying your first event. And our short course is manageable for anyone trying your first event. And we even have different start waves for the event for people who have different goals.
If you want to hang out and meet friends, if you wanna, you know, ride a little more steady or if you really want to. You know, go full gas. Just the introduce that like, you don't have to start in the front and like elbows. So I really want to emphasize that our long course, definitely fitness would be the biggest challenge if you're newer to gravel.
But it is inclusive.
[00:54:53] Craig Dalton: And then finally, what's the finish line experience? Like what have you designed there?
[00:54:59] Jess and Sam: Well, that was really, that was really important to us. And again, we wanted to focus on like our local vendors. And so we have above average race food. We have a local chef named Tim. Good. He has a catering truck. He owns a restaurant here and he has a catering truck called the cuisine machine. So last year you would find Mac and cheese.
You'd find corn bread, chicken Marsala pork chops with huckleberry barbecue sauce, watermelon salad. And then we had our local ice cream company out and we had huckleberry ice cream, which is specialty to Montana. We had one, they made one forest called gravel road. And then we had beer vendor, wine vendor, and a local kombucha vendor, and all participants receive two drink coupons so they could use it however they wanted.
Yeah. What else? Oh, and we offer bear spray. We never even touched, touched. The wildlife area, but yeah, we also sell bear spray and highly, highly recommend that you ride with it and know how to use it.
[00:56:05] Craig Dalton: Well, we'll let people do their own research. As they're thinking about 2023 for this, I love getting these types of events out on people's radar. We realize that they're not unlimited capacity, so you've gotta be able to plan ahead. And I, for one really loved traveling to new areas and experiencing gravel around the country.
It just reminds you of what a special place the United States can be and how much amazing outdoor activities is right there on our own country.
[00:56:30] Jess and Sam: We would love to have you up here. I mean, if You can come this year, we we'll we know the person
[00:56:36] Craig Dalton: one special slot. Nice.
[00:56:38] Jess and Sam: special slot for you, but if 2023 works better, we'd love to have you up here. And yeah.
[00:56:44] Craig Dalton: Thank you for that. And I appreciate both of your time. It's great to get to know you. And, and again, I hope everybody checks out last, last, best ride. I'll put link in the show notes and we'll make sure everybody knows how to find you guys.
[00:56:56] Jess and Sam: Thank you so much. Hope to see everyone.
[00:56:59] Craig Dalton: That's going to do it for this week's edition of the gravel ride podcast. Big, thanks to Sam. And just for joining us. I love the sounds of what they've created out there in Montana, and certainly hope to visit it someday and myself.
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