This September 11th, a few thousand cyclists will line up in Logan to race and ride the 28th version of the longest sanctioned single day race in the US. Covering 206 miles and ending in Jackson, WY, the LOTOJA (Logan to Jackson) has also become one of the most popular road riding events that many cyclists strive to accomplish at least once in their lives, which in itself is an accomplishment. For a select few- some of whom have been competing and riding in the event for 20+ years- it is an annual rite that is not to be missed, and an integral part of their cycling life. The race began with humble beginnings in 1983 when Dave Bern approached Jeff Keller at Sunrise Cyclery in Logan. Looking for a way to improve the shape he was in, Bern suggested a bike ride to Jackson. Keller agreed and the event was born.
Dave Bern came to me at Sunrise because he was fat and out of shape (or so he thought) and needed a goal. He came up with riding to Jackson and asked me what I thought; I said “cool, I think we should do it”. We had done rides like tour two states, Logan, Bear Lake, over Strawberry, Preston, back to Logan. That’s 135 miles, so going to Jackson was just a little bit more. First year there were about nine people; Bobby Van Slycke was the winner, then it grew into about 25, then 50. It was a tight group of screw balls that would do this every fall. Back then Jackson wasn’t busy that time of year. It was bringing money into that community, even 50 people and their families was noticed. It just kept growing. – Jeff Keller- Logan, Co-founder of LoToJa
I can’t imagine my life without LoToJa helping to define what I do, who I am, and why. Such strong feelings in me can be traced back to that first race in September 1983 when less than 10 guys rolled up to the start line in front of Sunrise Cyclery in Logan. Nearly 11 hours later, I was fortunate enough to cross the finish line. And like the other riders who excitedly pedaled their way into Jackson with the view of the Grand Teton pulling them in, I too had experienced cathartic moments throughout the day that changed me forever. It’s the memory of those life-defining moments of pain, doubt, then perseverance and courage that perhaps prod me to return to the roads of LoToJa year-after-year. There is no other Saturday on the calendar during which my heart, mind and legs work together with such clarity and purpose. –Dave Bern- Salt Lake City, Co-Founder of LoToJa
My first Logan to Jackson race was in 1986. I heard about the race from a co-worker who lived in Logan. I talked another friend into joining me for this epic event. We raced this first year together and about 3 more over the next several years.
There were only a few racers that did the race. There were 2 groups, the first being the licensed riders and the second group the citizens. I remember losing my chain at about the 70 mile area. After getting it back on, I lost the group and ended up riding the remaining miles solo. I wanted to quit but my support group which included my little brother Dennis, kept encouraging me to finish. A big disappointment that first time was the fact that the race didn’t end in Jackson but actually ended in Teton Village, which is 10 miles further. –Gary Porter-Roy, Utah- 22 year finisher.
The summer of ’86 consisted of working a full time job and writing my thesis at night, to prepare for my M.S. defense in August. I didn’t train well. A couple of LOTOJA veterans said I would do fine and the hills weren’t a big deal. Bad advice.
The word on the street was that helmets would be required. At the start there were a few other guys without helmets, so I lined up. There were fewer than 100 of us. I think this was the year someone held up a map of North America and said something like, “you are here and you are riding to here, if you stop we will shoot you.” A gun was raised, BANG, we were off. All participants started at the same time. The plan was to ride with the guys who talked me into participating, Ted Howe and Marcus “The Carcass” John (now deceased). At about 40 miles, Carc dropped back going up Treasureton Summit due to stomach problems attributed to a “bad pancake”, and I couldn’t hang with the group Ted was in because of the rolling hills outside of Soda Springs (78 miles). I didn’t see my support guy at the start, but we made our only contact around Soda. I didn’t know it at the time, but at that point he tossed my supplies in another support vehicle, and he headed straight to Jackson to carouse. I remember seeing my lunch cooler against the back window of an unfamiliar support car passing me on Tin Cup Pass. The vehicle was so packed the driver didn’t see me waving my arm after it passed. I was a straggler.
Somewhere in Star Valley I caught up to two “older” guys who were getting back on their bikes after a stop. They were generous in sharing support. Without their camaraderie I would not have finished. The wind was at our backs in Snake River Canyon and the leaves in full glory. –Jim Herrick- Logan, Utah- 21 year finisher.
Going up to Sunrise Cyclery the night before the race to get my number, I walked in and didn’t see any evidence that there was a race. I asked the guy in the shop if it was on. He said the registration was behind the store. I walked back and the registration was in an old garage with a dirt floor and a card table set up. I believe there were 70 participants….including 2 women. – Gary Porter
I remember hearing about LotoJa in the summer of 1989. I’d returned home from racing my bike back east and the idea of racing 200 miles really got me excited because it seemed like an almost insurmountable challenge. I slept at my home in Salt Lake the night before because I couldn’t afford a motel in Logan. I got up at 3 a.m. to get ready and make sure I had time to get to Logan, register that morning at Sunrise Cycle and make the 6:30 start. When I arrived in Logan there was one or two people helping with the registration and there was a long line out the door. There were a couple of porta- potties in the parking lot and a little banner at the starting line. They sent us all out in one pack and our support car followed behind and leaped frogged us all day long. You can imagine the traffic of a few hundred riders each with a support car. I made the mistake this year and many more of eating completely wrong. I stuffed down sandwich’s, fruit, figs, Gatorade, coke, cookies and by the time I was somewhere in Star Valley I had a terrible stomach ache and figured I wouldn’t eat anymore but just “bulldog” it to the finish. I underestimated the 80 or so miles left and by the time I crossed the finish line for the first time, I was so tired I could barely stand. –Gardner Brown- Kaysville, UT- 20 year finisher
I remember the race during the 1980s as often cold, windy and wet. There were times when early-fall snow greeted the peloton while ascending Tin Cup Pass between Wayan and Freedom (on the original course 1983 to 2003). There also were times between Freedom and Jackson when the peloton was greeted—and then forcibly stopped—by an unforgiving Wyoming Highway Patrolman who demanded that everyone ride single file—or else.- Dave Bern
Snow flurries began to fall as I approached Jackson. At the south end of town, I stood up to stretch and the bike coasted to a stop (mile 190). In what seemed like a completely, unpremeditated action, I laid down on the side of the road. A couple of cars not affiliated with the race stopped and asked if I was OK. When I stood up the pavement was damp except for the spot where I had been laying. It looked like a chalk outline of a body from a detective show on TV. I got back on the Miyata 912, selected one of the easier gears from the 6-speed cluster and limped the 13 miles to the finish in Teton Village. The light snow was not sticking and it was almost dark. Beautiful!!!
After dinner we went into Jackson. Ted Howe took a running leap and straddled a horse saddle mounted as a bar stool in the Cowboy Bar. His face grimaced with obvious pain. But in the spirit of a LOTOJA finisher, he pounded his fist on the bar and shouted, “Three shots of tequila and make it hurt.” Slowly, the bartender came over and asked for I.D. After the toast, I contemplated the changes that needed to be made to take this path again next year. –Jim Herrick
LOTOJA for me started in 1992 as a personal dare and a way to try and justify just having spent all of my tuition and book money for the year on a beautiful pink and purple fade Klein Rascal. It was an early 90’s color bomb with all the shiny anodized parts and one I think I saw on a magazine cover with Tinker Juarez. As I brought this monument to impulsivity home the guilt and remorse started to set in and I knew I needed to do something big to justify it. Somehow getting a Sport Class podium spot and a pair of socks for the effort just didn’t seem to pencil out so I looked toward a couple of my roadie friends and their scary event of the year, LOTOJA. I didn’t know a thing about it and my only road riding had been pounding the tarmac to the trail heads where I thought the real riding began. But what the hell, I needed to justify this crazy purchase and I had 3 weeks to get ready for this LOTOJA thing…..-Mike Caldwell
One year I was riding Lotoja we had crazy weather-rain, snow, sleet, sun, everything was going on. This was within the first 5 or 7 years. Near Freedom, Wyoming we came across a huge flock of sheep. We were on our bikes, in a race, and had to get through these guys. We were kinda riding, hobbling, and working our way through the chaos. The sheep were totally cool with us, but every now and then they would get sketched out. One of the sheep ended up jumping on top of a white Cadillac and tapped on the hood of the car. Six sheep later the old guy in the car and his wife were really freaking out; meanwhile we just kept going on our bikes. –Jeff Keller
I rode with the licensed rider group. Back in those years, a lot of the peloton was comprised of Race Across America racers doing a training ride. There were also a few pros that showed up from time to time. I remember riding along side John Frey, about 80 miles in. He asked me when we’d be coming to “Treasureton Pass”. I told him we had already gone up that pass. He was racing with a disc wheel.
I my 5th year I raced as a Cat 4 and actually won my category. Levi Leipheimer also did the race…as a cat 1 and won as well. At the award ceremony, Levi approached me and wanted to trade his prize for mine. I don’t remember what his was, but mine was a bike stand. I didn’t trade him. The race has been attended by a few famous pros. Levi Leipheimer, Marty Jemison, Scott Moninger to name a few. – Gary Porter
One of the most beautiful scenes was between somewhere early in the morning. We were just past Preston near Grace, Idaho, about 25 of us in this group. Across the road in this field were about two dozen horses. They started cantering parallel to us with the sound of thundering hooves, breathing, etc.. Our gears and chain and our own breathing is our only noise. Its foggy, horses are thundering, they get to the end of the field and they just peeled away from us- it was a magical moment. –Jeff Keller
In my 20 years of riding Lotoja, I’ve gotten married, had 6 children and somehow stayed healthy and motivated enough to return to Logan each fall. The feeling of crossing the finish line provides an invisible but real emotional draw. My children have grown and I raced the LotoJa one year with my 12 year old son on a tandem. We raced it 3 more times and in 2009 he raced it alone; his fifth time doing the race before the age of 18. I raced it one year with Gary Gardiner on the tandem and we had the fastest time of the entire field. I’ve raced it in driving rain, snowstorms, unseasonably hot and cold days and picture perfect September weather. I’ve been in crashes and seen horrible crashes but somehow those memories fade and only the feelings of that day in Jackson Hole after the race is over are remembered. –Gardner Brown
I first registered LOTOJA to just say that I did the race. People that I would meet would often ask if I’ve ever done LOTOJA. My answer would be, “No, I like the short, fast races.” Even though locally, I was considered to be one of the top riders, my credibility to outsiders would disappear. Other than the Tour De France, LOTOJA is the most well known bike race in this region. –Cameron Hoffman- 3x LoToJa (defending) champion
Several years ago we started the race in marginal weather; I believe the year was 2006. The forecast was for a chance of rain but as the day went on, it was suppose to get better. The temp at the start was in the low 40’s. As we arrived in Preston, it was apparent that we were in trouble. As we started the Strawberry climb, it started to rain, and as we approached the top of the climb the rain changed to snow. I remember having 2 layers on with just shorts on my legs. The snow got heavier and thicker. I remember looking down on my legs and seeing the snowflakes land and not melt. By the top, everyone was soaked to the bone. The roads were saturated. The descent off the mountain was a half hour of hell. The roads were wet and water was flipping up from everyone’s tires. I remember turning my head from side to side trying to find a clear spot to peer thru my glasses. My hands were so cold I couldn’t shift the gears. There was a group of about 15 masters that went down the mountain together. As we entered Montpelier, we all made a deal to change our wet clothes and wait for each other to start again. Most of the group didn’t continue due to hypothermia. I ended up finishing the race that day but not before I flatted in the cold rain, some 70 miles from the finish line. –Gary Porter
I got sued by a guy in SLC. He wrecked in the cattle guard about one hundred miles from Logan. Sued me and a few other people. I had to quit being race director. I could no longer have insurance and legally run the race. He was a bad applicant the year before. We should have known better to let him ride the event.
It was hard to get people to cooperate, namely communities, and the Wyoming Highway Patrol. We had to convince powers along the way to understand that this is really a good thing. We needed to work better with them and have them work together and make it possible. Cyclists can be jerks, but drivers and police are bad too sometimes. Brent (Chambers) and Dave have done a marvelous job getting everyone along the way on board. Cops now argue about when they want to work it as opposed trying to get out of it. Brent in particular has taken a pretty rough program and turned it into an absolutely top notch, first class event. –Jeff Keller
Such mishaps and misunderstandings with public safety officials are a thing of the past. Thanks to the brilliant leadership and moxie of LoToJa Race Director Brent Chambers, today’s race is mostly warmly received and respected by every community along its 206-mile long route. Given that the race now has over 1,000 riders each year, in addition to support crews, spectators and volunteers totaling a few thousand more, such approval is no small feat. –Dave Bern
The “lows” that initially come to mind are the times of financial struggles that I experienced the first five years I was involved with LOTOJA (1998 to 2003). But with these challenges came a lot of valuable lessons and opportunities.
In my first year (1998), after investing significant time and money (over $100,000), we drove to Logan for packet pickup and day-of registration with only a dozen entries in our database at $35 per entry. Ultimately, 191 riders registered and raced that year. Our total revenue, including sponsors, was just over $12,000. In other words, my first year was a financial disaster!
LOTOJA’s growth is definitely one of the “highs” that stands out during my time with the event. Participation grew by about 50% per year from 1998 to 2004 (2004 being the first year our rider cap was implemented and registration closed prior to going to Logan). 2004, 2005, and 2006, applications were received and accepted on a first-come, first served basis — with the “rider cap” being reached quicker every year. In 2006, we received enough applications to close registration the first day it opened. LOTOJA’s current selection process, which was implemented in 2007, has a one-week “open registration” period for applicants to be considered in our category drawings. This year, we received almost twice as many applications as we could accept. I am so grateful for the interest LOTOJA receives each year. It sure makes it easier to plan and organize an event when you know you have people that will support your efforts.
LOTOJA became my full-time, year-round job in 2005. The support, sacrifice, and understanding from my wife and family is amazing! They keep me going. -Brent Chambers- Epic Events- Promoter and Organizer of LoToJa
The registration, support, awards, has all gotten better and more sophisticated, but the race is still about that finish line in Teton Village! Watching the riders cross the finish line you can sense the emotions and feelings that are going through them. “I will never do this again,” “I have never been so miserable in my life,” “this was the stupidest thing I have ever done.” This all changes within about 12 hours, and now at the awards ceremony the next day, you can see the life has returned to all the finishers and they have an incredible sense of accomplishments and enough stories to fill a book. They’re making plans for “next year” and the cycle continues.—Gardner Brown
LOTOJA by the numbers
• In a typical year, 85% will cross the finish line
• Average participant age is 40 years old
• Over 400 course and neutral support volunteers help on race day (about 100 are HAM radio operators)
• Men’s Course Record: Cameron Hoffman, Clearfield, UT, 9:02:52 (2009)
• Women’s Course Record: Tiffany Mainor, Las Vegas, NV at 9:55:06 (2006)
• It’s estimated 10,000 to 15,000 calories will be burned per racing cyclist
• Since 1983, 2.3 million miles have been pedaled by LOTOJA cyclists
• The three neutral-only feed zones will go through about 1,800 gallons of water (that’s 7.2 tons)
• LOTOJA requires almost 200 portable toilets – placed in small groupings every 5 to 10 miles
• LOTOJA features 9,738 feet of climbing; most of this is in the first 110 miles (total elevation loss is 7,916 feet)
• In 2009, LOTOJA’s fundraising programs raised over $150,000 for its charitable partners
• LOTOJA is always scheduled the first Saturday in September, AFTER Labor Day.