By David Ward
The Cache Valley Gran Fondo is a bike ride designed for a person born and raised in Southern Idaho, which I am. While I am now a thoroughly urbanized resident of Salt Lake, riding these roads brought back the sweet nostalgia of the paths I wandered while growing up in a small farming community outside of Pocatello.
I joined with my brother Nick, another Southern Idaho ex-patriot, and my niece, Jyl, her husband, Ace, and Angela, a heretofore unknown extended family cousin, all current Pocatello residents. For Nick and Jyl, this would be their very first century rides.
Beginning in Logan, the route takes you 20 miles through western Cache Valley to the first food stop in Trenton, just south of the Idaho border. From there, we continued the next 30 miles to ride through the refreshing and rolling farms and ranches of Northern Utah and Southern Idaho till we reached Malad. The section between Weston and Malad included some decent though not leg-breaking climbs up Weston Canyon and along the Deep Creek reservoir, over the top of the pass, down the other side to where we crossed over I-15 and followed the frontage road for several miles as we headed back south to Malad.
This was the more fun part of the ride for several reasons. It was early morning, which is always a refreshing time to ride. It was a varied route, including flatlands, rolling hills and some relatively steep climbs. It was on this section, on the downside of Weston Canyon, that I saw six vultures circling over head, but not, so far as I could see, awaiting the demise of a passing cyclist. Finally, this was the first half of this 104 mile ride. As a friend told Nick, the first 75 miles of a century are easy, it’s the last 25 miles that hurt.
In our case, the hurt began shortly after we left Malad. We suddenly came up a two mile section of newly chip sealed road, with the excess gravel not having yet been cleaned off. I felt rather like the Tour de France riders who, just a couple of days before, had to contend with the infamous cobbles of northern France. Taking a cue from them, Nick and I just poured it on, pounding our way over the gravel till it thankfully ended.
Then, we began to pick up a head wind which dogged us for the next 25 miles to Riverside. It was particularly brutal the final 10 miles to the next food stop. I have to be honest and say that this feed was disappointing. The people were very friendly and helpful, but the pickings were slim and not the best. At this point, I could have used some really substantive food, but there was only some fruit and salty snack foods. The water in the coolers was obviously (from the taste) hose water. Also, I was forewarned about this long slog from Malad to Riverside, so I really tanked up on fluids in Malad and filled both water bottles. Had it been a hotter day, and for the unwary, this is a long distance at this stage of the ride without at least a fluid stop.
From here, we took the rather busy road from Riverside east to Cache Valley. Thankfully, it is a four lane road with a good shoulder all the way so, although there is a lot of traffic, there is plenty of room to ride. This is a rolling climb up from Riverside till the descent in to Cache Valley. But at least we no longer had a headwind . . . till we made the turn to head for the final food stop in Mendon. Then, we again battled that old south wind for several miles to that food stop.
This final stop, though only about 10 miles from the finish, is well-placed. Again, as at all the other stops, the staff were great, even filling our water bottles for us. I was most grateful for the cold ice water and the can of Rockstar. These propelled me to the finish in Logan, and gave me a good kick for sprinting the last few yards to the finish.
Our clan regrouped at the stop in Mendon so we could ride to the finish together. Our leader Ace, who had become rather infamous for his “we’re almost there” refrain long before each stop, led us on in to the finish. There, in addition to handing each of us a sizeable medal for completing the Gran Fondo along with a free tube, we were given a meal ticket that we could redeem at 1 of 3 food tents set up by local restaurants. Each offered an excellent post-ride menu and meal.
We had a great time doing this ride. My fellow teammates are some of my favorite people, both because and beside the fact they are relatives. It was a great route, even for those who do not claim Southern Idaho or Northern Utah as home or for their roots. I felt it was well-organized and, as always, appreciated the efforts of the organizers, volunteers and sponsors. And except for the gripe about the Riverside stop and the lack of a stop between Malad and Riverside, it was well-supplied and supported.
And Jyl and Nick successfully completed their first 100+ ride. While Nick then said this was now checked off on his bucket list, I told him to just wait a few days and he would be considering when he would do his next century ride. It gets in your blood, and the Cache Gran Fondo is an excellent ride for satisfying that craving.