LOGAN — Looking back, it’s hard to believe that a race that started as a wild idea in the minds of Dave Bern and Jeff Keller in 1983 would later become one of the most popular bike races in the country. With just over 1,500 cyclists and 600 volunteers expected at this year’s edition, the enthusiasm for the classic LoToJa is still going strong.
The idea for LoToJa originated when Bern and Keller sought to organize a race that resembled the difficulty of a one-day European classic, such as Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. LoToJa’s first year saw the seven cyclists race 192 miles from Logan to a finish line in Jackson Hole’s town square.
“The morning after the first LoToJa, we were all having breakfast together in Jackson Hole, and I asked my friends if they would be willing to do this race again next year,” Bern said. “Without hesitation, everyone said ‘yes’.”
“Jeff and I just wanted to try and do something that had never been done before, and it turns out there’s a whole community of cyclists out there who like to think big and do something they never would. thought I could do,” Bern said. “This is the draw for LoToJa.”
LoToJa, pronounced “Low-Ta-Juh”, is well known in cycling circles as one of the longest cycling races in the country, covering over 200 miles from Logan to Jackson Hole. Since the first race in 1983, LoToJa has seen 21,000 cyclists complete over 6.7 million miles during the event. He has also raised nearly $3 million in cancer research donations to the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.
But LoToJa almost didn’t happen due to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of Race Director Brent Chambers and many volunteers, the race continued. “Brent created and followed a comprehensive set of COVID-19 protocols that worked,” Bern said.
“It’s something Brent worked really hard to do,” Bern said. “Maintaining LoToJa during the pandemic has created new challenges. Our first concern was the health and safety of cyclists and volunteers. I am proud to say that we were able to continue the race with a lot of help from so many amazing people.
When the race started in 1983, the route was a little different from what cyclists will be riding this week.
“Back then, the traditional racetrack started at the same place it does today, at Sunrise Cyclery in Logan,” Bern said. “It then went through Preston, Idaho, through Treasureton Summit to the town of Grace, then through Soda Springs. Then came a tough climb over Tincup Pass, which then reconnected to the current route, north on Hwy 89, and on the final stretch to Jackson Hole.
Bern said the race distance was extended to 200 miles when the finish line was moved to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in 1986.
A quick check of LoToJa history shows that the first winner was Logan’s Bob VanSlyke, with a time of just over nine hours. According to Bern, VanSlyke was one of the strongest riders he had ever ridden with. “Bob was in the best shape of all of us,” Bern said.
“In that first race, I remember I was on the first big climb of Treasureton Summit on Highway 34. I was riding with James Munson, and as we started up the hill, Bob picked up the pace and dropped us both and just disappeared. the mountain. He ran the rest of the race alone until the finish. There was no doubt that he was going to win. He is LoToJa’s first Hammer Man.
VanSlyke still rides his ATV near his home outside of Colorado Springs, but not the distances he rode in that first LoToJa.
“I have fond memories of that first LoToJa,” VanSlyke said. “We had a bunch of guys who just wanted to go out and do something that hadn’t been done before and we were young enough and crazy enough to try. Who would have thought that it would have turned into something so amazing for everyone to enjoy.
Now that the 40th edition of the LoToJa Classic has arrived, it will start on Saturday at the same place as the first race, in front of Sunrise Cyclery. The idea of going 203 miles doesn’t seem as distant now as it did in 1983. But again, that’s what makes endurance races like LoToJa so appealing. Pushing cyclists to accomplish what others thought was unattainable in the past will soon become reality for many on the race course on Saturday.
Glenn Seninger lives in Salt Lake City and has completed LoToJa 13 times.