By Joan Meiners
An insider’s perspective into the untapped cycling potential and beauty of Northern Utah — the real Northern Utah.
Mark Deterline is a pillar of the cycling community in Utah, and a good friend. So he was the first person I contacted about advice on replacement gear and getting back in the game when I could finally walk again after a serious training crash in May.
The accident still has me battling concussion headaches, and sporting a knee brace.
Mark suggested I launch my comeback the only way I am currently able: from my desk, by writing about my experiences as one of the relatively few female bike racers in Northern Utah. He and I are hoping these paragraphs will bring more attention to the oft neglected northern reaches of our great state. At the same time, hopefully my words will provide a compelling preview of the exciting events coming to Logan and Cache County with Tour of Utah next month.
Let’s face it, when we talk about cycling in Utah, including with regard to “Northern Utah,” we usually imply the area within smelling range of a certain high salinity body of water.
But if you’re willing, travel with me for a few minutes to the “real” north, and I’ll let you in on a few gems of insight regarding cycling in what may be a part of the state you have yet to fully appreciate or discover.
Logan is the Samantha (played by Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles) of Salt Lake City’s sister cities, patiently awaiting celebration of her blossoming into maturity, but continually overlooked because big sis – Salt Lake City — is getting married.
With endless smooth roads, scarce traffic, perpetually shaded and winding canyons, endless climbs to the east, flat and rolling terrain to the west, more bike shops than seems logical, and a major university brimming with students eager to ride and maybe race, our town of Logan is bursting with fiery cycling potential.
Yet, bigger-city Utah cyclists looking for weekend adventure seem more eager to venture four-plus hours by car to the south, to acknowledgedly beautiful red rock country, than to test the quiet trails and cool waters of lovely Logan Canyon, only 90 minutes north of SLC.
I moved to Logan in July 2011 to start a graduate program in ecology, studying the biodiversity of native bees at Utah State University’s renowned USDA-ARS “Logan Bee Lab.” I was fresh off my first season of bike racing (in Colorado), having progressed to USA Cycling Category 3, and was eager to advance and push myself further by traversing the peak-adorned valley of my new home.
I charted out routes on Google maps, poked my head in each of the half-dozen bike shops in town, and got in touch with the listed contacts for Utah State University’s cycling team.
Months went by. I received no answer from team USU, found little company out on the open roads, and was consistently the only woman to show up for the lone weekly race-pace group ride, the “Tuesday Night Ride,” where I felt largely invisible to the veteran members of this testosterone fest.
I took to wearing my neon pink helmet, thinking of it as a beacon for female company. It was also a plea for some of the men to not take themselves quite so seriously, especially when I would pass them; (okay, I admit that the girly helmet also helped rub it in just a little when I did pass them).
I started looking for group rides outside Logan, in Ogden, where I eventually found more of a community with Ben Towery’s and Matt Howard’s crew, the Harristone/Sun Valley Mortgage (and The Bike Shoppe) cycling team. But a three-hour training ride with them meant an early morning start and six-hour round-trip ordeal for me. And on race days, an 8am start in the SLC area (or often farther away) meant waking to a 4:30am alarm, an entire day neglecting homework, and a tank of gas.
Even after finally tracking down the USU cycling team, joining, and eventually assuming co-leadership with Kodey Myers, this avenue provided little reprieve from Logan cycling solitude.
My fellow USU students were generally excited in the early part of a semester. But as coursework picked up, enthusiasm and peer support of its cycling squad inevitably proved insufficient in outweighing the costs and sacrifices of training and traveling to poorly attended collegiate races. This was especially true for the female contingent.
Kodey and I, along with teammate Davis Wood, organized our own road team time trials and criteriums, and mountain bike races in Logan. But most of the participants were our own teammates, or friends I had convinced to make the drive north. Sadly, our efforts yielded insignificant funds to support our collegiate cycling program. Ultimately, we sacrificed time and sleep in vain, thereby eventually losing motivation.
The women’s fields didn’t even have attract enough participants to fill a podium, despite the fact that collegiate events are also open to non-collegiate participants. Indeed, this seems to be the case for collegiate cycling throughout the state.
Despite united efforts to keep the Intermountain Collegiate Cycling Conference afloat from Kimberly Sims, Jordan Bracken, Mitchell Peterson and Mavis Irwin, to name only a few, it was basically declared a failure by USA Cycling last year. This, even though I consider the Intermountain West one of the country’s best cycling regions based on talent and endless, gorgeous terrain.
Efforts to infuse those around me with my love of bike racing often seemed to fall flat in Logan. And so, eventually, did my own cycling. While striving to balance priorities that included full-time grad school, and surrounded by peers who didn’t understand my cycling obsession, my once blossoming enthusiasm for Utah racing began to run out of steam.
This article is not intended as a public venting session or over-dramatization of my personal small-town cycling tribulations. I understand that I am not the only one who wakes up early to train alone, who deals with longer commutes to cycling events, or who faces frustrations as a female, a student, an event organizer. I hope, rather, that my voice will serve as something of a call to action to the greater Utah cycling community, for whom I have affection and respect, and whom I wish I knew better.
I have benefitted greatly from the generosity and friendship of such Utah cycling moguls as previously mentioned (Deterline, Towery, Howard), all of whom have made heroic efforts to facilitate my continued involvement in cycling. And I would be remiss to not acknowledge some of the gems of Logan cycling, for there are several deserving of recognition (and I realize that I am leaving out a few likewise worthy of mention).
My short list includes Wayne Wheeler, who runs Joyride Bikes with grace and generosity; David Clyde and Tommy Murphy, who had already put in a good fight to keep the USU cycling team going before I got involved; Mark Burtenshaw and Stephen Clyde, who run the excellent, fun, and FREE Thursday night time trial series through the Logan Race Club; Devon Gorry, who’s sudden presence in Logan in 2012 as a friend and training partner replenished my waning enthusiasm; Rachelle Lyle and Darcie Murphy, friends and teammates with whom I should force my training schedule to align with much more than I do; all of my USU cycling cronies, especially Kodey Myers, Tanner Robison and Kimberly Sims, who have made cycling in Logan worthwhile, even on the most challenging, snowiest and “bonkiest” rides.
There are so many good people, excellent roads and trails, and fast cyclists in Logan. It is so much more than the starting town of that insanely long race to Jackson Hole. And there is so much cycling talent and potential yet to be recognized.
Intermountain Healthcare’s Cache [Valley] Gran Fondo is enhancing and encouraging organized cycling in the area. There also has been talk of organizing a stage race in Logan, and I hope you will join me in backing efforts to bring that idea to fruition in the future.
The Little Red Riding Hood women’s event (put on by the Bonneville Cycling Club to raise money to fight cancer in women) sells out online within minutes every year. The event draws a couple thousand female cyclists to Cache Valley each June. Where they train beforehand, or where they disappear to afterward, is an enduring mystery to me.
Utah State University continues to enroll thousands of fresh faces every fall, some recent alum of the excellent Utah High School Mountain Biking league, and many more of whom likely could be convinced to dedicate some of their free time to cycling if offered a bit more structure, support and guidance. (Rick Weatherald and Jamie Bennion made strides in this regard, but it is a thankless job, and more help is needed.)
Great things are happening for Utah women’s cycling in other parts of the state, thanks to the likes of Alex Kim and others. And I am thrilled that Tour of Utah is bringing world-class bike racing to Logan this August. Let’s keep it there. Let’s build upon it.
On August third, when fans south of Cache County and from out of state travel up I-15, over Sardine pass and into Logan to watch the pro men rally up Logan canyon, and the elite women charge up the Boulevard, I hope you will get a glimpse of this little haven the way I see it. I hope you will plan to come back. I hope you will organize and attend Logan races and rides, and enjoy weekend trips to Cache Valley. I hope you will patronize the area’s bike shops, and ask about group ride options.
When Tour of Utah is in town, I hope you will join me in wildly cheering on amazing female racers as they crest the top of the Boulevard climb, part of the women’s criterium course, and my own favorite hill on which to do training intervals.
I hope that, together, we will hold up a symbolic candle — or sixteen of them — in our hearts, dedicated to the untapped cycling potential of Logan, Utah, and its surrounding area. That, together, we will begin working to support the women, men and students who are already pedaling hard to keep cycling vibrant in this lovely, mountainous, and quiet corner of our state.
See you when you get here!