Editor’s note: News director Spencer Powlison is racing Rebecca’s Private Idaho on September 2. This gravel coverage is sponsored by 3T, Mavic, Bell, and Roka. Spencer will ride a 3T Exploro on Mavic’s Allroad Pro UST Disc wheels and Yksion Allroad XL tires, and was equipped with a Bell Z20 MIPS helmet and Roka GP-1 sunglasses.
As part of our continuing coverage of gravel events, I’m headed to Ketchum, Idaho for the sixth edition of Rebecca’s Private Idaho. Who is Rebecca? Rebecca Rusch is one of the most accomplished endurance athletes around. She’s done it all, from Eco-Challenge adventure races to climbing El Capitan to winning Leadville 100 four times. Rusch is also an accomplished gravel racer, winning the Dirty Kanza 200 in 2013 and 2014, as well as the 350-mile Dirty Kanza XL this past May.
She wanted to combine her appetite for a tough, long race on dirt with her love for her hometown of Ketchum. That’s how Rebecca’s Private Idaho was born.
“I want the world to know what I see every day from my own front porch, so in 2013 I put together a long-haul gravel grinder that took a few hundred people from the streets of downtown Ketchum into the high mountain basins of the Pioneer Mountains,” she wrote on her website.
The 92.5-mile “Big Potato” course is the main event this weekend. It climbs 4,729 feet, primarily on dirt and gravel roads through the public lands around Ketchum. The race also offers a 50-mile “Small Fry” route and a 20-mile “Tater Tot” option. Or, if you want to go really big, there is the “Queen’s Stage Race,” a three-stage race that begins Thursday and is capped off by the Big Potato.
Welcome to the Wild West! The winner of each category gets a Rebecca’s Private Idaho branded cowboy hat, custom made in Salmon, Idaho by the Jaxonbuilt hat company. Anyone who finishes the Big Potato in under 6.5 hours gets a custom bolo tie. And of course, there are plenty of potatoes at those aid stations (plus the usual fare from GU).
The afterparty also has plenty of local flavor. One of the highlights of the Off the Wagon Days Celebration is Gelande Quaffing, a drinking game that involves sliding beers across tables as fast as possible.
How to ride a new event
I’ve never raced Rebecca’s Private Idaho before. Maybe you’ve also got a new event coming up on your calendar. So here are my tips for taking on unfamiliar territory (and no, I don’t have any advice on how to win a round of Gelande Quaffing).
- Compare courses
- I’ve never ridden this event before, but I’ve done other gravel events at similar distances. I look back on those that I know for a basic idea of what to expect. Rebecca’s Private Idaho is a bit longer than Crusher in the Tushar, but it has less climbing. They’re both at altitude. I can probably expect a similar effort, although the pace will be faster at Rebecca’s.
- Look at the weather
- It’s easy to know what to wear when you’re riding from home, but in a new place it becomes more difficult to plan. I have a close look at the weather forecast and bring lots of clothing options. The key temperature to consider is often not the daytime high but the overnight low. It could be a cold start at 8 a.m.
- Figure out your tires
- For gravel races, the biggest variable is usually tire choice. After talking to friends who’ve done Rebecca’s and looking at some photos, it seems like there will be a lot of loose, dry, dirt roads. So, I’m opting for more traction and comfort rather than light weight and low rolling resistance. I’ll ride Mavic’s 40mm Yksion Allroad XL tires mounted up tubeless on the Allroad Pro UST Disc wheels.
- Plan your nutrition
- I always look ahead at the placement of the aid stations to determine my nutrition plan. How much time will it take to reach them? Will there be an extended portion of the course without aid? This course is essentially an out-and back with a loop at the end, so you repeat all three aid stations — Trail Creek Summit, Wild Horse Creek, and Copper Basin. The gap between the first time through aid #3 and the second is the longest — nearly 25 miles with a fair climb, so I’ll make sure I’m totally topped off the first time through Copper Basin.
- Stick with familiar gear
- No need to make life any harder by adding another variable on race day. I’m riding the same 3T Exploro bike we’ve been using all summer, as well as my Bell Z20 MIPS helmet and Roka GP-1 sunglasses, which I wore all week at the Breck Epic mountain bike stage race.
What I’m riding
(As modeled by my colleague Chris Case at Crusher in the Tushar.)